This week is World Autism Awareness Week. Here at Alfriston we started early and, on the occasion of the Singing Showcase we had a stall to display information about Autism when parents visited. We also had a donations bucket on the stall and raised £116.55 for the cause. Thank you.
This week, teachers at Alfriston will be asked to take part in a quiz about autism and pupils will be able to find out more about the condition by chatting with pupils who have been identified on the spectrum. There will also be a chance to view excerpts from the feature film about Temple Grandin.
In the meantime, read on for some information about Autism from the National Autistic Society.
How does autism affect children, adults and their families?
The term ‘autism’ is used here to describe all diagnostic profiles, including Asperger syndrome and Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA).
- Without understanding, autistic people and families are at risk of being isolated and developing mental health problems.
- Autism is much more common than many people think. There are around 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK – that’s more than 1 in 1001. If you include their families, autism is a part of daily life for 2.8 million people.
- Autism doesn’t just affect children. Autistic children grow up to be autistic adults.
- Autism is a hidden disability – you can’t always tell if someone is autistic.
- While autism is incurable, the right support at the right time can make an enormous difference to people’s lives.
- 34% of children on the autism spectrum say that the worst thing about being at school is being picked on2.
- 63% of children on the autism spectrum are not in the kind of school their parents believe would best support them3.
- 17% of autistic children have been suspended from school; 48% of these had been suspended three or more times; 4% had been expelled from one or more schools4.
- Seventy per cent of autistic adults say that they are not getting the help they need from social services. Seventy per cent of autistic adults also told us that with more support they would feel less isolated5.
- At least one in three autistic adults are experiencing severe mental health difficulties due to a lack of support6.
- Only 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time paid employment, and only 32% are in some kind of paid work7.
- Only 10% of autistic adults receive employment support but 53% say they want it8.
1 The NHS Information Centre, Community and Mental Health Team, Brugha, T. et al (2012). Estimating the prevalence of autism spectrum conditions in adults: extending the 2007 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey. Leeds: NHS Information Centre for Health and Social Care
2 Reid, B. (2011). Great Expectations. London: The National Autistic Society, p7
3 Reid, B. (2011). Great Expectations. London: The National Autistic Society, p18
4 Reid, B. (2011). Great Expectations. London: The National Autistic Society, p8
5 Bancroft et al (2012). The Way We Are: Autism in 2012. London: The National Autistic Society
6 Rosenblatt, M (2008). I Exist: the message from adults with autism in England. London: The National Autistic Society, p3
7 The National Autistic Society (2016). The autism employment gap: Too Much Information in the workplace. p5
8 Bancroft et al (2012). The Way We Are: Autism in 2012. London: The National Autistic Society
Myths and facts about autism
Although over 700,000 people in the UK are autistic (more than 1 in 100 people), false and often negative perceptions about the condition are commonplace.
This lack of understanding can make it difficult for people on the autism spectrum to have their condition recognised and to access the support they need. Misconceptions can lead to some autistic people feeling isolated and alone. In extreme cases, it can also lead to abuse and bullying.
- Autism affects more than 1 in 100 people – Over 700,000 people in UK are autistic, which means that 2.8m people have a relative on the autism spectrum.
- People tend to ‘grow out’ of autism in adulthood – myth. It’s a lifelong condition – autistic children become autistic adults.
- Autism affects both boys and girls – fact. There is a popular misconception that autism is simply a male condition. This is false.
- Some autistic people don’t speak – fact. Some autistic people are non-verbal and communicate through other means. However, autism is a spectrum condition, so everyone’s autism is different.
- Autism is a mental health problem – myth. Autism is a developmental disability. It’s a difference in how your brain works. Autistic people can have good mental health, or experience mental health problems, just like anyone else.
- All autistic people are geniuses – myth. Just under half of all people diagnosed with autism also have a learning disability. Others have an IQ in the average to above average range. ‘Savant’ abilities like extraordinary memory are rare.
- Everyone is a bit autistic – myth. While everyone might recognise some autistic traits or behaviours in people they know, to be diagnosed with autism, a person must consistently display behaviours across all the different areas of the condition. Just having a fondness for routines, a good memory or being shy doesn’t make a person ‘a bit autistic’.
Many autistic people experience meltdowns. The public often find it hard to tell autism meltdowns and temper tantrums apart, but they are different things. You can help by understanding autism, the person and what to do if you see someone having a meltdown.
A meltdown is ‘an intense response to overwhelming situations’. It happens when someone becomes completely overwhelmed by their current situation and temporarily loses behavioural control. This loss of control can be expressed verbally (eg shouting, screaming, crying), physically (eg kicking, lashing out, biting) or in both ways.
What to do
If someone is having a meltdown, or not responding to you, don’t judge them. It can make a world of
difference to someone on the autism spectrum and their carers.
- Give them some time − it can take a while to recover from an information or sensory overload.
- Calmly ask them (or their parent or friend) if they’re OK, but bear in mind they’ll need more time to respond than you might expect.
- Make space − try to create a quiet, safe space as best you can. Ask people to move along and not
to stare, turn off loud music and turn down bright lights – whatever you can think of to reduce the
information overload, try it.